Is Drug Addiction a Mental Illness?


I’ll get right to the point: YES, drug addiction is a mental illness. Let me explain the two main facets of drug addiction. First, there is the physical aspect of it – the physical craving for the drug because of the person’s chemical dependency upon the drug. In the case of alcohol, one will find that once they take a drink they will not be able to control the amount of alcohol they consume thereafter no matter how hard they try.

Second, there is the mental aspect of it, which is the obsession of when, how, how often and how much of the drug one can get. The addict’s thoughts are consumed with obtaining and retaining access to their drug of choice. It is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder in my opinion, and it is lethal. It is not a moral shortcoming. It is not a choice. It is not a sin. It is not a lack of discipline or will-power. It is a mental illness!

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction qualifies as a mental illness because “addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, changing the person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substituting of new priorities connected with procuring and using the drug.”

While the addict may have crossed the line into non-choice when it comes to using his drug, he does always have the choice of whether or not to get treatment for his illness/addiction, just like one who has bipolar or schizophrenia can choose to get help for his illness or not.

However, as in the case with many mental illnesses, sometimes a primary symptom is that which tells the person that they don’t have the illness. This symptom is called denial, and unfortunately, it can delay treatment long past what is appropriate or safe for the individual.


National Institute on Drug Abuse
Alcoholics Anonymous
Narcotics Anonymous


5 thoughts on “Is Drug Addiction a Mental Illness?

  1. I’m a recovering alcoholic with 10 years of sobriety and I’m convinced that alcoholism and other forms of disorders (bipolar/anxiety, etc) are interlinked. To me, the symptoms of the alcoholic mindset is almost identical to the mindset if someone with bipolar. I think eventually science will find a link. great post


    • I just celebrated 10 years last week! 🙂 I think there are many similarities as well. Although some do get well with the program alone while others need the additional help of the meds which to me suggests definitely 2 separate illnesses going on.


  2. Hey WiL, Bradley –
    Great to first hear about you in posts you’re able to relate to ten years of sobriety.
    Congratulations on the strength and commitment to the fight.

    We might part ways on certain phrases here, but I think are hearts are in the same place:

    I am not a recovering alcoholic. The last drink I took was May 8, 1978. At 3:15 in the afternoon, Mountain Daylight Time.
    That’s over thirty-six years ago.
    Never had the urge to start up again, even in tougher times than I had since then.
    Thirty-six years. No hangover, no headaches, no shakes, no meetings, no hint of a relapse.
    I recovered. With God’s help, I beat it.
    I am no longer in any stage of alcoholism, even what is referred to as “Recovery”.
    I took the Thirteenth Step and it is in my past.
    Again, a matter of terminology and beliefs.

    The way I stopped?
    I didn’t look at the alcoholism as the problem in and of itself.
    I quit thinking in terms of “how do I stop?”, started asking “why did I start?”
    As soon as I started to realize why I was – essentially – self-medicating, it was easier to fill the void in my life that was being filled by barley hops.
    Worked well for me, the operative phrase being “for me”.
    I drank to avoid the pain of Depression, the torture of Anxiety, and it just added to the problems.

    So while my take on my alcoholism might differ from your takes on yours, I know all too well the destructive nature of it.
    Is it the chicken or the egg?
    It’s just a question, the answer being different for each person asking.

    I’ll be enter a post on sometime soon about the whole nine years of my life it all impacted. It’s been a very difficult process to get through, and it will be well beyond the WordPress definition of “Long Form”, but something I had to do.

    Best wishes,


    • Harris,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I believe our philosophies have more in common than you think. We get sober with Gods help (he removes the desire to drink from us), and the 12 steps help us to get down to the causes and conditions of why we drank. It’s a great recovery program but obviously not necessary for everyone to obtain and maintain sobriety as in your case.

      I actually consider myself recovered as well, but still attend meetings to help others and as part of my spiritual routine.

      I look forward to visiting your blog. Thanks again for touching base here.

      Best wishes,


  3. Pingback: Are You Addicted to Chaos? | Write into the Light

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